comments from Louise Ho, author of Local Habitation and Incense Tree
Fifteen years of hula hooping have given the poet Tammy Ho Lai-Ming the
remarkable agility to limber from one perspective to another, from the everyday
to the almost bizarre, from realism to surrealism in seconds and back again. And
who knows what sorts of hula hoop she's been using, considering the visual pun of
the formidable-looking cast iron ring on the cover by Alvin Pang. Ricky Garni's
spiral design in the book is also nicely descriptive of each poem as dense centre and which hula hoops out to some target somewhere or like a top that spins to infinity.
Here is muscular span over the spectrum of human experience: poems that morph from seeming prettiness to the grotesque, from socially nuanced context (wine, cigars) to the totally non-social (cannibalism), from the most personal to the most public (political). Tammy Ho is a poet of tough love, tough being and with language powerful enough to match all that. Some of the poems can be confronting, that they are so shows the confidence of the poetic voice.
Tammy Ho’s style resembles those of magic realism. She has the interesting trait of taking a common idiom and turning it on its head. It's a pervasive feature, only two examples here: ''Do you miss me?' over the phone or collar-bone' ("Deceiving the World"); 'And we'll talk, / lies like spinach, in our teeth' ("Post Mortem").
These are angular poems with sharp corners that can hurt. Yet, for all their irony and cynicism they manage to have wonderful humour. As if after a punch in the face, you suddenly see the point and break out in a giggle or two.
"Hula Hooping", the last piece in the collection, is a long prose poem and it flows with perfect measure in pace and tone. The music fluently develops from point to counterpoint, where all the disparate images synthesize into one final universe, balanced, harmonious, vibrant.
Hula Hooping is a most engaging volume of poems. I look forward to the next and the next.
Reviews and responses
Elaine Yee Lin Ho, Professor of English, University of Hong Kong, in Intervention:
'... the everyday world of family life, lovingly evoked... '
Lucas Klein, Lucien Stryk Translation Prize winner:
'These poems are allusive and elusive. Goethe, Chuang Tzu, Nabokov, the wind, text messages, money. Yet there is a tenderness and sometimes stunning directness.'
Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Commonwealth Poetry Prize and American Books Awards winner:
'Tammy Ho's first book of poems marks the heart-felt, enigmatic, sassy, unapologetically socially engaged voice of an emergent generation that Hong Kong has long waited for.'
'In Ho's poems on love, the tone tends to be bleak or ironic or carry pathos—in every single instance, it is the fantastic imagery that makes them memorable, a wild twist.'
—Mani Rao, Asian Review of Books
'[T]he book ushers in a distinctive and powerful new voice in the Hong Kong poetry scene. [...] The poetic voice in the poems is strong and confident, steeped in irony and sarcasm. Though it seduces, it does not seek to charm; though there is a range of colours in the emotions, the heart knows things in black and white. Irony is a tool for the intellect, and therefore a number of poems here are cerebral. Definitely not poetry to play footsies with.'
—Ricardo M. de Ungria, Asiatic
'An offering that perhaps remains slightly invisible to us, even as we may be catching, think we may be catching, hope to catch, a glimpse, glimpses, of it.'
—Jeremy Fernando, Berfrois
'Ho clearly sees the beauty in all things, people and moments, and this beauty—in which the personal takes in the whole world—is what she celebrates in her poetry.'
—Michael Tsang, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal
'It's beautiful. It's chaotic. It's vicious. It's glorious. It wraps round your heart and sings into your ears. It fills your lungs and makes breathing easier.'
—Edward J Rathke, Entropy Magazine
'Ho’s poems suggest that their minimal notations should be all that is necessary to register the hysterical screams of history’s catastrophes.'
—Robert Kiely, Hix Eros
'Passionate, but never didactic, these delicate verses emanate vibrant hues that invite us to experience and re-create the many facets of daily life in Hong Kong.'
—Joel Gn, Kitaab
'Tammy Ho Lai-Ming as poet and persona is tough/tender, both delicate and resolute in her determination to summon up experience and imagination, documentation and prophecy.'
—Alfred A. Yuson,The Philippine Star
'A thoughtfully-composed cultural assemblage, Ho's poetry is marked by the remarkable free-spirited spontaneity and nonchalance in her language.'
—Jennifer Wong, Singapore Review of Books
'The gift that Tammy Ho bestows upon her readers is what we might clumsily call the uplifting—ennobling even—the marriage of the manifold.'
—Jason S. Polley, Two Thirds North
'Lai-Ming had, with a syringe in her hand, infused the cosy modernist images with an uncertainty that was beautiful and scary, a terrible beauty — who knows what might happen after ringing the door knocker? Exit or Entry, welcoming or fleeing — choose, vote, again and again. This is what I take back from Hula Hooping — the horror and the hope of every moment being a moment of choice, a political moment.'
—Sumana Roy, Sunday Guardian
'Hula Hooping is a noteworthy import that captures a distinctive voice of the new Hong Kong.'
—Margaret Stawowy, Up the Staircase Quarterly